Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 25

The President and Fellows of Harvard College Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology

History at a Standstill: Walter Benjamin, Otto Dix, and the Question of Stratigraphy Author(s): Matthew Biro Reviewed work(s): Source: RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics, No. 40 (Autumn, 2001), pp. 153-176 Published by: The President and Fellows of Harvard College acting through the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20167544 . Accessed: 26/02/2013 05:23
Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp

JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.

The President and Fellows of Harvard College and Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology are collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics.


This content downloaded on Tue, 26 Feb 2013 05:23:36 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

History at a standstill
Walter Benjamin, Otto Dix, and the question of stratigraphy

History decays

into images, not into stories. Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project

What was new thousands of years ago is old today, but it is

nevertheless new once again. How can one decide where

through a new subject matter (although this was part of it), but rather through a more fragmented and set of forms.2 Benjamin, in other words, heterogeneous a as a theorist has often been read proto-postmodernist: who sees his contemporary as fragmented, moment in the sense that and post-stratigraphic heterogeneous, no single tradition or master historical narrative seemed

the old stops and the new begins Ofto Dix,

... ?

"Object Produces Form," Berliner Nachtausgabe, December 3, 1927

little about the Despite having written comparatively visual arts in particular, Walter Benjamin has been cited in art history and criticism over the past two frequently art historians and decades.1 With a few exceptions, critics have been primarily interested in Benjamin in because of his arguments about the transformations art and perception that resulted from the development of mass and media the nineteenth the technology during and early twentieth centuries. Arguing that, through mass reproduction, the tradition of art history as a series of unique, auratic objects had been destroyed, Benjamin concluded that the transformation of the tradition meant art and mass culture had to serve new, political that not primarily functions?functions they accomplished
I would like to thank Marvin Trachtenberg and Barry Flood for and offering reading drafts of this manuscript important comments. would also like to thank Elizabeth Cropper, Ed Dimendberg, Irene Pat Simons, and Tom Willette for extremely Leung, J?rgen Schulz, on a number of the topics examined valuable conversations in this essay. Support for my research was supplied by an Ai IsaMellon Senior Fellowship for 2000-2001 from the Center for Advanced in the Visual Arts at the National of Art in Gallery Washington,

to apply any longer.3 The art historical tradition, to this view, was no longer seen as a according and nonreversible continuous development leading up was material to be to the present day. Instead, it appropriated?potentially useful but whichever universally binding?in whatever media the politically appropriate. Much less examined in no way ways and through engaged artist deemed

by art historians and critics is of the relationship between Benjamin's understanding art and modern temporality or time consciousness?an understanding that promises to have some impact on in art history. In their cruder uses, stratigraphie models that divide art history stratigraphie models?taxonomies one another into distinct phases or periods, succeeding came attached to arguments about in time?often

2. In addition a formally new type of artwork, to creating the artist, in his later work, also had to transform his or her Benjamin maintained role in society. On this new role of the artist, which Benjamin theorizes of the "operative writer," see Walter through the concept Benjamin, "The Author Essays, Aphorisms, (New York: H.B.J., als Produzent," Since 683-701]. apply to Dix, as Producer" in Benjamin, Reflections: (1934), trans. Edmund Jephcott Autobiographical Writings, "Der Autor [Walter Benjamin, 1979), pp. 220-238 in Benjamin, Gesammelte Schriften, II-2, pp. of the operative writer of does not

Bruce Study D.C.,

and a Scholarly Activity Leave Grant from the University of Michigan. 1. The essays by Benjamin most cited art historians are by

Benjamin's concept I will not discuss this theory and most

Work of Art in theAge of Mechanical Reproduction" probably "The (1935-1939) and "AShortHistory of Photography" (1936). SeeWalter
"A Short History of in Classic Photography," Essays on ed. Alan Trachtenberg Leete's Island, 1980), (New Haven: Photography, "Kleine Geschichte der Photographie," [Walter Benjamin, pp. 199-216 in Benjamin, Gesammelte and Schriften, 11-1, Rolf Tiedemann Benjamin, 1982), Schweppenh?user, hrsg. (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, and Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of pp. 368-386]; in Benjamin, Mechanical Illuminations (New York: Reproduction," "Das Kunstwerk im 1969), pp. 217-251 [Walter Benjamin, Schocken, seiner technischen Zeitalter in Benjamin, Reproduzierbarkeit," Gesammelte Schriften, I-2, pp. 472-508]. Hermann

influential theories of postmodernism in the 1980s, "The Allegorical Impulse: Toward a was of on Postmodernism" Owens, Theory by Craig heavily based dramatic See Craig Owens, Benjamin's theory of baroque allegory. Power, and Culture Beyond Representation, Recognition: (Berkeley: in the visual arts University appeared of California in 1980 The essay originally Press, 1992), pp. 52-87. in two parts. See Craig Owens, "The Allegorical a Theory of Postmodernism," M October (Spring

Benjamin's 3. One

later aesthetic of the best

important in this essay.


Impulse: Toward and Owens, "The Allegorical 1980), pp. 67-86; Impulse: Toward a 13 (Summer (Part 2)," October 1980), pp. Theory of Postmodernism 58-80.

This content downloaded on Tue, 26 Feb 2013 05:23:36 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions


RES 40 AUTUMN 2001


rational progress, and teleological development, new The synthesis. period, with its distinct set of aesthetic out of the old; it flowers and then it grows principles,

formal and thematic became

of the next dies, its destruction making the development In their earlier, more extreme novel period possible. account of aesthetic development, for forms?Hegel's are to models used suggest that example?stratigraphie of the age before, thereby arranging beings and nature in ever more complex, and self-aware rational, configurations.4 The role of art, depending upon which stratigraphie or historian is speaking, is often to help philosopher or to reflect help produce the ebb and flow of the age both human In all cases, underlying principles of the period. itself through time as however, art is seen as presenting a series of strata marked by clear divisions. so understood, are the products Stratigraphie models, of what certain philosophers and cultural theorists have called modern time consciousness: they are future oriented and separate themselves from the past in that assume is it that impossible to return to they generally the principles of an earlier moment. As J?rgen Habermas each resolves the contradictions

ways face of this development, Benjamin criticized modern time consciousness for its barbarism?its heedless to power and progress, and its uncanny ability devotion to forget the past. And by calling for human beings to transform their orientation toward the future into an to undermine toward the past, he attempted both modern time consciousness and the stratigraphie view of artistic and cultural history that it implied. himself with Benjamin still concerned Although types and settings in the modern world that discovering were both moment and revealing of the contemporary for and springboards weakly redemptive revolutionary this could only come about reflection, he believed of fragments of through the simultaneous remembering that had been history destroyed. Like Georg Simmel, by whom he was influenced, and was with in dialogue, whose work he Siegfried Kracauer, a to demonstrated desire Benjamin post-stratigraphic define what was most characteristic of his contemporary about the triumph of Western moment.7 Apprehensive in the social planning, and technology reason, science, modern world, he analyzed works of art and mass culture in terms of what they revealed about the on a nature of human existence historically conditioned a social and level. Through various works psychological of historical and contemporary cultural criticism, he argued that specifically modern, social-psychological traits and problems could be discerned in both high art and mass culture: traits and problems that helped to explain the social and political chaos of his time, the collective myths that helped to produce and legitimate his world, and the common values that might point to in the future.8 forms of social existence less hegemonic
in the work of these three the concept of modernity see David of Theories of Frisby, Fragments Modernity: in the Work of Simmel, and Benjamin Kracauer, Modernity and Kracauer (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1986). Both Benjamin thinkers, 7. On

principles. The immediate past not it offered, but for the for what important, inwhich it could be rhetorically opposed. In the


has argued, modern time consciousness formed itself out of a central contradiction?because it constantly renews itself by recapitulating its break from the past, "modernity can and will no longer borrow the criteria it takes its orientation from the models by which it has to create its supplied by another epoch; normativity out of itself."5 As a result, the project of modern art became tied to continuously finding truth or in the transitory and the ephemeral: the flash at beauty was a new to the dawning of world that predestined as no of have the development duration.6 Moreover, radicalized over the course of the modern art became late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, each modern movement seemed to relate to its predecessor more more and through negation and less and less through

the assimilative


of previous

For a clear


Philosophy York: Cambridge

account of aesthetic of Hegel's mature concept see Georg Wilhelm Lectures on the Friedrich Hegel, trans. H. B. Nisbet of World History: (New Introduction, 109-113 1988), pp. 101-107, in Hegel, Werke, der Geschichte hrsg. (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp,


Press, University ?ber die Philosophie [Vorlesungen and K. Michel, 12, E. Moldenhauer 1986)].

In Simmel's cultural historians. case, on the clearly post-stratigraphic is not as clear-cut. other hand, this classification 8. Because he rejected a concept of the subject as something was in a certain sense an fully rational and conscious, Benjamin can also be seen in his thinker. His antisubjectivism antisubjectivist notion of the subject adopted rejection of the Hegelian by Marx and much of the Marxist the subject as a creative and tradition; namely, "rational consciousness" that realized itself consistently self-improving on an individual and a collective level in and through history. The subject, corporeal, theorized "creature." however, a part of Benjamin's in its remained thinking that libidinal, and emotional aspects, aspects Benjamin in the 1920s through the concept of the human being as see in Benjamin's On the concept of "creature" writing,

See also Georg Wilhelm ?ber die Friedrich Hegel, Vorlesungen in Hegel, Werke, 13-15. ?sthetik\-\\\ Discourse of Modernity: 5. J?rgen Habermas, The Philosophical trans. Frederick Lawrence Twelve Lectures, (Cambridge, MA: MIT Der philosophische Diskurs der Press, 1987), p. 7 [J?rgen Habermas, Moderne: Zw?lf Vorlesungen, 18-19. 4. Auflage (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1993), p. 16]. 6. Ibid., pp.

This content downloaded on Tue, 26 Feb 2013 05:23:36 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Biro: History at a standstill


to Benjamin's critical-theoretical practice was an a method of of the world: mode interpreting allegorical so that they of life select modern reading fragments or constellations disclosed larger oscillating assemblages of meaning.9 all of concepts By rejecting totality or in favor of one of constellation, he wholeness of and the difference play signification acknowledged Central interpretation and, thus, the structure of all dialectical and differential fundamentally For this reason, he and representation. meaning that characterizes all and the play of different contradiction interpretations by reading both art and mass culture in a fashion: namely as sources of negatively dialectical social and psychological conflict as well as potential newness.10 revolutionary certain visual artists working during the Significantly, context inwhich Benjamin Weimar Republic?the a most his of number published important works? maximized this allegorical and post-stratigraphic also exhibited moment. As suggested vision of their contemporary by the paintings and graphic production of Otto Dix, the past was not viewed as producing for example, the present as a continuous and ever-branching, Nor did the present moment nonreversible development. seem to distinguish itself from past history through a series of radical breaks. Instead, in Dix's art, the present appeared as an amalgam of distinct, often outmoded in the chaos of vying with one another life. of the of modern Elements real, life, and everyday of the new were intermixed with fragments and signs of history to create complex allegories of the now? moment that related the contemporary allegories to a multitude of different and equally important This essay will examine Dix's politically antecedents. of three different charged Dada Triptych, a conjunction traditions

in 1920, that Dix all painted separately canvases, exhibited as a loosely joined single work at the Berlin in 1921. Itargues that Dix's Dada Triptych, Secession which was immediately dismantled after its first and only exhibition, Benjamin's models of anticipated and critical dialectical historical materialist imagery was criticism the of cultural that type practice, supposed to apprehend and transmit the dialectical types and in the that discovered literature, art, Benjamin settings and urban material culture of nineteenth-century France. As will be shown, by integrating montage into its formal, material, structures, Dix's triptych an of his time inwhich experience potentially produced in relation to a the present was exploded and analyzed of interrelated historical precursors. constellation
* * *

and semantic

for the first and only time at the Berlin in 1921 (fig. 1), Dix's Dada Triptych consisted of three partially collaged oil paintings, The Skat Players, in 1920, The Barricade, and Prague Street, all produced Exhibited Secession with the year that marked the high point of Dix's engagement in Berlin.11 Flanked by two the Dada movement

World War I (figures imagesof disabled soldiers from

that Dix and his contemporaries referred disparagingly to as "war cripples"), the central panel?now destroyed? consisted of a large oil and mixed-media painting depicting one side of a terrifying urban battle, an all-out mechanized war that recalled the street fighting that as a in numerous urban centers inGermany occurred result of the Kapp Putsch of March 13, 1920.12 Painted
11. On Heinrich, Hatje, Putsch Dix's association with the Berlin Dada Dix und Dada," artists, see Renate in Dix (Stuttgart:


und Malerei:

Beatrice Hanssen, Walter Other History: Of Stones, Benjamin's Human and Angels of Animals, Beings, (Berkeley, CA: University in particular, California and 150-162. Press, 1998), pp. 103-107 9. On Benjamin's in the 1920s and its theory of allegory to Dix's art, see Matthew Biro, "Allegorical Modernism: relationship Carl Einstein on Otto Dix," Art Criticism, Vol. 15, no. 1 (2000), pp. 46-70. 10. On Negative Press, the concept of negative dialectics, Dialectics (1966), trans. E. B. Ashton has defined them dialectics" not exhaust is a method the natures see Theodor W. Adorno,

and Ulrich Weitz, 1991), pp. 85-91, Kapp "Kriegskr?ppel, in Dix, pp. 95-100. und Kunstlump-Debatte," 12. The Kapp Putsch began on March 13, 1920, when Wolfgang of the Kapp, a rural East Prussian official and former founding member Fatherland commander Party of the armed [Vaterlandspartei], in eastern forces and General and central von L?ttwitz, Germany,


occupied Chancellor

the government district of Berlin and declared Kapp the new of Germany. A right-wing to overthrow the Social attempt Democrat-led that succeeded the German parliamentary democracy at the end of World War I, the putsch was initially army. As a result, the German by the German unopposed president, Friedrich Ebert, and his cabinet had to flee and establish other in Dresden offices?first and then in Stuttgart?while large portions of the military and of the government's stood on the bureaucracy to carry out orders by either side. In the face of the sidelines, refusing of both the military trade unions, parliament, workers caused and the government bureaucracy, a call leaders of the answering by the deposed carried out a general strike, which was joined the country. By paralyzing throughout Germany, to fail; and, on March 18, Kapp,

monarchy (New York: Seabury it in relation to philosophy, of juxtaposing and the concepts to show that it subsumes. that the conceptual The term fits

1973). As Adorno that fall under

"negative particulars order does

in order

as well, cultural criticism Benjamin's to remain unresolved contradictions reconciling Hegel). them into a higher

allows Benjamin in his texts, as opposed to or for (as does, unity synthesis example, because

passivity German democratic

by numerous these strikes

the putsch

This content downloaded on Tue, 26 Feb 2013 05:23:36 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions


RES 40 AUTUMN 2001

Figure 1. Installation photograph of Otto Dix's Dada Triptych (Dada Triptychon) at the Berlin Secession, 1921. Oil and mixed-media on canvas. Left to right: The Skat Players, The Barricade, Prague Street, all 1920. [Reprinted from Roland M?rz and Rosemarie Radeke, Von der Dada-Messe zum Bildersturm: Dix und Berlin (Berlin: Neue Nationalgalerie, 1991).]

in a grotesque style that evoked both mass-media caricature and the tradition of the print in Germany, the work presented itself as a derisive parody of a history tradition through painting, aping the nineteenth-century its size, aspects of its painterly technique, and its "world historical" subject matter. Unlike the celebrations of German history by official state artists of contemporary the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries such as Anton von Werner, however, Dix's work was stylistically a mixture of thinly painted and built-up heterogeneous, areas, and passages of greater and lesser realism. Its material surface, moreover, was radically impure, an
L?ttwitz, and their main the elected government restoration demanded of the centrist further fled to Sweden, supporters thereby to return to Berlin. Dissatisfied with allowing the simple strikers

amalgam of oil paint with different, nonpainterly materials including cloth, tinfoil, postcards, and other forms of mass-produced and printed materials. the Furthermore, triptych also recalled the Christian art of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance through its outmoded, tripartite form, thereby emphasizing?by means of historical contrast?the nihilism of its depicted now in relation to the religious past. The triptych was not identified as such at the time. Indeed, its title appears to have been given to it at a later date. Nor were its panels joined, nor the much sizes of its two wings commensurate. the However, at of the three the Berlin Secession placement panels in conjunction supports such an appellation, especially with the fact that Dix presented his representations of life in triptych formats at least two more times modern over the next ten years.13 Indeed, as shall be suggested in the conclusion to this essay, the fact that a work takes a particular form only temporarily does not allow the art historian to exclude that form from consideration. Dix originally of whether intended for the Irrespective three paintings to form a larger whole (much more likely
13. The

the left-wing however, government, structure in governmental transformations

the creation of a popular "self-ruled" government (particularly or soviets, and workers' "R?te councils the so-called soldiers' and numerous workers' units carried self-defense movement"), attacks on

through out

in the Ruhr Freikorps and regular army troops, particularly district and in central Germany. This so-called "March revolution" was in turn violently reinstated Social Democratic put down by the newly often with government, at least, had not actively Democratic government the putsch troops that had either supported it. As a result, the ruling Social resisted was from the more permanently estranged or,

parties, and it lost a great deal of See Eberhard Kolb, The Weimar (1984), trans. P. S. Falla (London: Unwin Hyman, 1988), pp. Republic and Detlev The Crisis of 36-39, J. K. Peukert, The Weimar Republic: Classical Modernity (New York: Hill (1987), trans. Richard Deveson and Wang, 1991), pp. 68-70. socialist and communist left-leaning voter support in the next elections.

title "Dada Triptych" in first appeared [Dada-Triptychon] zum and Rosemarie Radeke, Von der Dada-Messe Dix und Berlin (Berlin: Neue Nationalgalerie, Bildersturm: 1991), np. Dix's later triptychs such as the Metropolis and Triptych (1927-1928) Roland M?rz The War 1921 was was that Dix's (1929-1931), however, suggest not fortuitous, and that the organization to suggest an earlier form of Christian of arrangement of the three works religious art.


This content downloaded on Tue, 26 Feb 2013 05:23:36 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Biro: History at a standstill


is the fact that he retrospectively combined works that were originally produced simply as part of the same series), the fact that they were intentionally placed together at the Berlin Secession, coupled with the fact that their association is both meaningful and anticipatory of Dix's later practices, compels us to consider them as a single work. was destroyed, Before it the center panel (fig. 2) x 70 inches. Here, instead measured 74 approximately of a crucifixion, adoration, nativity, last judgment, or some other traditional annunciation, religious subject, Dix represents a violent battle inwhich cybernetic warriors?an old worker, a steel-helmeted artillerist, and a sailor?all an unseen at fire weapons aggressively Behind this of street mismatched enemy. phalanx sizes diminish in forced perspective to fighters whose row of tidy Gr?nderzeit the upper right, a fashionable identifiable as part of the Marschallstrasse in buildings, recedes sharply into the top left corner?a Dresden, that creates a balance between equally juxtaposition forceful, but not quite congruent spaces, settings that an the coexistence old of order with a new suggest chaos.14 The Great War, as the overall spatial and violent subject matter of Dix's panel fragmentation its purported end and, continues suggests, beyond has entered the heart of modern furthermore, finally as indicated by the urban life in Germany. Moreover, inwhich environment the conflagration is set, the new war was in the process of the German destroying the class that, in comparison to the bourgeoisie, had been less proletariat, physically damaged by World I.The components War the grisly barricade comprising reinforce this suggestion?beneath and on both sides of the technologically augmented warriors appear two male corpses wearing bourgeois clothing, as well as a host of objects drawn from the sphere of high culture, statues, books, journals, and among them paintings, sheets of printed paper. A religious painting from the artist's immediate context, Titian's The Tribute Money in (ca. 1516), which Dix knew from the Gem?ldegalerie in near the Dresden, appears reproduction top right corner. In addition, a painted depiction of the Venus de Milo appears below the machine-gunner, and fragments are pasted onto of the Neue metaphysische Rundschau the canvas directly to the left of the classical statue. Finally, an old wagon and kitschy items of household beautification?both actual and painted curtains, table
14. On the identification of the barricaded street as the see lain Boyd "Dix's From Marschallstrasse, Whyte, Germany: Reich to EastAA/est Divide," Wilhelmine inOrto Dix 1891-1969 (London: T?te Gallery, 1992), p. 31.

inspirational plaques suggesting petty the barrier behind which the bourgeois tastes?complete street fighters defend themselves. In combination with the overall spatial and material heterogeneity of the visible panel (today only partially through poor the misuse of these domestic, cultural, reproduction), and commercial objects suggests the destruction of the as well, German family, culture, and economy thereby the violent giving ?mage extremely apocalyptic overtones. Although the battle still wages, it seems only a matter of minutes until one side or the other?or perhaps both sides?are totally destroyed. In contrast to the central panel, which depicts a war total to end the Weimar fragmenting Republic before it even began, the predominantly brown left panel (fig. 3), which measures 43% x 341A inches (110 x 87 cm) and is of the currently in the collection in Berlin, depicts a small group of National Gallery ambiguous cripples who appear to represent both the new war's cause (beer halls, conservative militaristic of libidinal thinking, and the uninhibited expression its and result and drives) (destroyed flesh, prostheses, same in Here the death). critical, yet curiously monumentalizing style, Dix represents three malevolent looking war cripples who use actual cards, integrated with the oil surface, to gamble at skat in a dark and death-haunted Dresden pub, identified as such by the newspapers appropriated pasted to the dark brown wall which the against cripples are seated and a painted skull that hides in the yellow-white lamp above them on the left. Despite their montaged and broken bodies, made of paint, woven-paper up of a combination "cloth," and these cripples look perversely virile. In the first their and power place, virility is suggested by their rich on the the white table, and the sexual money clothing, etched into mottled pink heads of the left the thoughts and center cripple, as well as the fact that they are seated indoors in a beer hall, engaged in empty and pleasurable In their addition, power is suggested by the pursuits. nature of the technological that they have replacements secured for their organic deficiencies?augmentations that hint at strange and superhuman abilities. The tube of the listening green-suited cripple on the left, for to or "spy upon" the to be able "hear" appears example, cards of his opponent; the middle figure dressed in light brown can now eat laminated paper thanks to his new prosthetic jaw; and the reconstructed right arm of the iron cross-bearing martinet on the right, which emerges from the center of his blue-suited back, suggests a tail thus and scorpion's deadly power. Finally, the German veterans seem more physically stable than their tinfoil,



This content downloaded on Tue, 26 Feb 2013 05:23:36 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions


RES 40 AUTUMN 2001


Figure 2. Otto Dix, Dada Triptych, center panel. The Barricade (Die Barrikade), 1920. Oil and mixed-media Approximately 74 x 70 inches. Destroyed.

on canvas.

This content downloaded on Tue, 26 Feb 2013 05:23:36 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Biro: History at a standstill


?*i 3>




Figure 3. Otto Dix, Dada Triptych, left panel. The Skat Players (Die Skatspieler) 1920. Oil and mixed-media canvas. Approximately 433/s x 341/* inches (110 x 87 cm). National Gallery, Berlin.


This content downloaded on Tue, 26 Feb 2013 05:23:36 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions


RES 40 AUTUMN 2001

and transplants would suggest. This the similarities between the central cardplayer's nearly black legs and those of the table and chairs, as well as the many reflections on the floor, make the veterans appear to have multiple, insectlike Thus, rather than the radically disabled, appendages. like cyborgs?that is, technologically they seem more augmented beings who do not reject their mechanical grafts but, rather, gain new powers through them.15 As such, these militaristic cripples resemble the in the central panel?they technowarriors represent not merely the broken victims of mechanized warfare, but also powerful new hybrids able to wage total war
once more.

various amputations is the case because

skeletal spectacle. As suggested by the yellowish-brown hand holding a dark brown cane in the bottom left-hand corner and the florid-faced cripple with a blue suit and a green bowler hat who flails along on a brown wooden cart immediately below his poorer "brother," even other war cripples, nominally better off than the abject beggar, cannot bear to look in his direction. Although he is the in to at the the gaze only figure triptych directly is represented as having spectator, this abject cripple the least visual appeal. Without the technological in the left panel (a point of his brethren augmentation and silver derisively driven home by the yellowish-white his visual prostheses beyond his reach in the window), appeal for money has failed. Perhaps because his is distracted by the flood of commodity "community" and media culture that exists in the dirty-white and gray urban world all around them, he appears on the verge of death. His future, it seems, is all used up?a connotation in the that, despite the danger represented everywhere three panels, distinguishes this abject cripple from all the other figures in the Dada Triptych.
* * *


to both the left and the center panels, depict figures who, despite their grotesque appearances, appear powerful and active in the midst of extreme danger, the right panel (fig. 4), which iswarmer in tone and painted in contrasting greens, browns, blues, grays, pinks, and whites, depicts a figure who has given up and seems on the verge of losing his life. Here, in an 393/4 x 31 7/q inches (101 x 81 cm) image that measures and is currently in the collection of the Gallery of the City of Stuttgart, a solitary and abject war cripple with a yellow beard and hat begs for money on the crowded Prager Strasse, Dresden's main shopping street, identified as such by fragmented postcards depicting a few of the famous thoroughfare's in landmark buildings on the left.Within a spatially and the window materially street of dogs, commodities, jumbled environment

In contrast

children, fleeing passersby, and political propaganda, the brown-suited cripple lies broken on the pavement.16 Multicolored crammed with wigs, shop windows underwear ads, and bits of prostheses, mannequins, and gynecological tools newspaper advertising condoms in appear above his head, while well-dressed passersby green and pink outfits ignore the abject creature's pitiful

Dix's Dada Triptych was a difficult work for art critics to assimilate in 1921. Although they praised Dix's work as a document of their contemporary moment and in their reviews of the Berlin featured it prominently Secession, they were uneasy about its seemingly conservative formal structures. Arno Nadel, for example, celebrated Dix inDer Kritiker as one of half-heartedly the few partially original artists in an otherwise "sick" and derivative show.17 In an exhibition that was primarily notable for the formulaic nature of the works on display?their reliance on models drawn from the immediate past, in particular, Marc Chagall, Emil Nolde, and the Berlin Dada artists?aspects of Dix's Dada Triptych seemed the products of a unique personality. Nadel singled out the cardplaying cripple on the left as well as the center side of the left panel, for example, as a same At whole. the time, for Nadel, the panel center panel's originality in its poetic content?its lay to the conflation of opposites, represent turmoil, ability world. and the power of death within the debased, everyday Dix's talent, in other words, was primarily a journalistic one, visible at the level of his subject matter. His work was not particularly in terms of its innovative visual forms. Similarly, writing inDie Woche, Franz

15. On


Biro, "The New Visual Culture," pp. 71-110. 16. Dix

in Dada art in Berlin, see Matthew image of the cyborg in Man as Cyborg: Weimar Figures of Technology no. New German 62 1994), Critique, (Spring/Summer

two leaflets supporting attached Social Democratic (SPD) in the parliamentary candidates elections of June 6, 1920, to the surface of his canvas: the first positioned below the lower cripple's cart and the second above his bowler hat. Although the first leaflet appears to voice the actual politics obscure Semitic beliefs, a closer examination it to be a criticism of reveals exemplars of the bourgeois cut parties. Dix, however, its criticism, leaving the title, "Jews Out," anti-Semitic character of some "Kriegskr?ppel" of the political (see note debates II), p. 98. of the text of one the anti-Semitic the text so as to to suggest the anti at this time. See of

17. Arno 1921),

Ulrich Weitz,

Nadel, pp. 5-6.





Kritiker, Vol.

3 (May

This content downloaded on Tue, 26 Feb 2013 05:23:36 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Biro: History at a standstill


Figure 4. Otto Dix, Dada Triptych, right panel. Prague Street (Prager Strasse), 1920. Oil and mixed-media canvas. Approximately 393/4 x 317k inches (101 x 81 cm). Gallery of the City of Stuttgart.


This content downloaded on Tue, 26 Feb 2013 05:23:36 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions


RES 40 AUTUMN 2001

Servaes praised the center panel as a "document of our time that revolves in chaos," but added that the work had nothing to do with any form of "normative aesthetic"?a formulation that suggests that Servaes also Dix for his praised primarily subject matter and less for his painterly strategies.18 Even more revealing are the criticisms of the art critic Gertrude Alexander, who noted how contradictory the work's message really was. in Die Rote which Fahne, Writing paradoxically defended the tradition of bourgeois art against the in the early 1920s, attacks of the German avant-garde Alexander criticized Dix and the other "expressionist" artists in the show for fleeing the reality of society and in both "the cosmic" and "final losing themselves their caricatures and grotesques solutions."19 Although had a positive effect in that they revealed the German society, they shamefulness of contemporary to the representation of pain and limited themselves in an ecstatic manner similar to Christian art. martyrdom For this reason, their works were mystifying?produced for "churches" or a "monk's cell." Although they art was to be disclosed that the fate of contemporary for a market (a positive effect inAlexander's produced eyes, although one that did not reflect well on the works no positive ?deals that could themselves), they contained a true define Alexander focused on Dix help community. more than any other artist in her review, suggesting that, in the exhibition, Dix's made the of all the works strongest impression on her. She argued, however, that his works suffer from the same problems as those of the communist other artists. Although Dix's triptych showed the and "brutality" of contemporary "shamefulness" society in Germany, its content did not rise above dramatic and Dix's entire confused social criticism. Moreover, message was suspect. The center panel, Alexander noted, gave the revolutionary worker the same as the reactionary barbarous and debased countenance storm trooper. "Why," she asked about the brutal face of

"did Dix not dare to give such countenances militarism, their true clothing?" All three critics mentioned Dix's documentary subject and his ability to matter, his stylistic eclecticism, represent the chaos of the contemporary complexly
moment. Alexander, moreover, went on to note Dix's

strangeness or unassimilability; namely, how grotesque, and mystifying his representation was, as caricatured, its overall message. well as how confusing Perhaps because of their ambivalences vis-?-vis his work, however, none of Dix's critics were able to engage with in his subject the extreme contradictions embodied matter. Nor were they able to write about Dix's formal means without For these sounding banal or disparaging. in critics, Dix's synthesis of multiple styles of painting the Dada Triptych revealed an imaginative lack or deficiency.20 As suggested by Benjamin's concepts of historical materialism and dialectical imagery, however, was only one aspect of a far Dix's stylistic eclecticism more fundamental focus on juxtaposition, montage, and conflict that pervaded every aspect of his art, a focus that ultimately suggests its avant-garde character. By turning to the work of Walter Benjamin here, Ido not mean to suggest that Dix was influenced by the German and cultural historian.21 Indeed, the critical philosopher and theoretical texts that will be examined here were seven and nineteen years after the only written between of the Dada Triptych, and they were for the appearance most part published even later than that. Instead, the is to argue that a particular point of my conjunction manner of both interpreting and producing culture (as a set of contradictory citations complex linking the present to a constellation of different historical antecedents) was central to the work of both the artist and the cultural historian. Dix did not simply produce works of art that fit Benjamin's model of a new and more critical form of historical of image, but, in addition, Dix's manipulation visual forms and subjects seems to have mirrored Benjamin's own processes of interpretation and literary was citational and it shaped its in that it composition in order to create a maximum amount of tension material


Franz Servaes

Von der Dada-Messe 19. Gertrud 4, no. 268

in Roland M?rz and Rosemarie Radeke, quoted zum Bildersturm (see note 13), np. Die Rote Fahne, Vol. Alexander, "Ausstellungskunst,"

20. elements

In particular, drawn

(June 15, 1921), p. 3. On the cultural politics of Die Rote in the early 1920s, attempted to defend the Soviet Fahne, which, Union that it destroyed works of art by criticizing the against charges see Barbara of the Berlin Dada artists and their supporters, position McCloskey, Radicalism Press, as well see Grosz and the Communist George Party: Art and in Crisis, 1918 to 1936 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University criticisms of Dada art 1997), pp. 65-69. On Gertrud Alexander's as responses to her judgments by other Grosz, pp. 69-83. George communist art critics,

and painting, eclecticism has also

these critics suggest that Dix's triptych contains from expressionism, Dada, nineteenth-century history art of the Renaissance. the Christian Dix's stylistic

been noted by many art historians. See Dietrich bei Hamburg: Schubert, Orto D/x(Reinbek Rohwohlt, 1980), p. 18, and Eva Karcher, Ofto Dix, trans. Doris Linda Jones and Jeremy Gaines Strobl treats this issue (K?ln: Benedikt Taschen, 1992), p. 20. Andreas length; see Andreas Jahre Strobl, Ofto Dix: 1996), Eine Malerkarriere pp. 180-183, der and (Berlin: Reimer, 200-201,



zwanziger 204-215.

This content downloaded on Tue, 26 Feb 2013 05:23:36 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Biro: History at a standstill


Dix and Benjamin thus point to a common across different media shared inGerman sensibility culture between the 1920s and the 1940s, a sensibility and conflict. the unreflectively nature of that opposed progressive time consciousness modern and the stratigraphie notion of history that this consciousness implied.
* * *

for him the expression of a subjective intention on the part of an individual author, the dialectical images of The Arcades Project were collective reached their creations, even if they ultimately final forms in and through the work of a particular creative individual.23 As such, unlike allegorical images, dialectical forms of images expressed more objective remained historical truths that revealed both the in the modern world that enslaved people ideologies and the common human virtues that could transform and redeem them.24 Thus, in contrast to allegorical knowledge, images, which simply revealed historical tragedy, dialectical had a political effect? images potentially

the late 1920s, historical materialism Beginning and dialectical image came to be used more and more in Benjamin's writings. The first term stood for interrelated Marxist, Benjamin's critical practice, which to approach cultural history during the last years of Benjamin's life. to reflect the broken and citational style of the Designed dialectical images he sought to represent (images that nature of the modern for him defined the contradictory world), Benjamin's approach became more and more and aphoristic as his work was disrupted appropriative in the 1930s and early by National Socialist aggression 1940s. Concerned with recovering forms and contexts of life that had been lost due to historical violence, modern he hoped to inspire revolutionary thought in his present faith in unrestrained day by criticizing modernist and his readers of the essential progress by reminding of human life and of its and necessary autonomy dignity self-direction. The dialectical image, in turn, was used by Benjamin in his monumental Arcades Project [Das Passagen-Werk] to characterize what he had previously called allegory: a one that of modernist form particularly representation, was violent, historical (in that it commented on its situation in relation to a multivalent contemporary past), In contrast to allegory, which and weakly redemptive.22
to imply the opposite; that Dix's art namely, critical practice. Although Benjamin's Benjamin aware of Dada art, and, indeed, he reflected on its in some of his best known theoretical writings, he accomplishments in any of his critical or theoretical does not discuss Dix texts. On Nor do influenced of Dada art, see Walter "The 21. I wish

and religious psychoanalytic, philosophical, and which promoted an increasingly ethical


they disclosed the fragilityand instabilityof the

contemporary political order and suggested that a better one could replace it.25 In addition, as suggested by Benjamin's critical practice, the dialectical image was a "form" that spanned different media. Although primarily
with the experiences of modern life, practices most commensurate thus giving the term a rather different set of meanings. As Benjamin the Trauerspiel, which the intrigues of courtly life as argued, presented a for the battle between forces of good and evil, metaphor primordial also revealed the growing of the modern world?the disenchantment modern world's from its mythic and religious past. separation disconnection growing Reflecting humanity's loss of religious certainty, baroque allegories inwhich and retrospective?representations was feeling satisfaction. dramatized and secular sorrows from nature were the as well as its both melancholy loss of religious could find

and anxieties

As a result, baroque and violence allegories represented on multiple destruction the levels, and, in addition, they reflected a broken and citational fallen state of the world structure. through

Radically appropriative, they cited past systems of belief inorder to

on contemporary?but veiled?political subject matter. On the range of meanings that allegory possessed in German art history in the 1920s and 1930s, see, for example, Otto Schmitt, hrsg., zur deutschen Reallexikon 1 (Stuttgart: J. B. Kunstgeschichte, comment Metzlersche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1937), pp. 346-366. On see Walter of allegory, concept Benjamin's German trans. (1925/1928), Tragic Drama 1990) Verso, in Benjamin, The Origin of Benjamin, (New York: Josh Osborne des deutschen Trauerspiels

or inspired was clearly

[Walter Benjamin, Ursprung Gesammelte See also Schriften, 1-1, pp. 203-430]. Matthew Biro, "Allegorical Modernism" (see note 9), pp. 47-48. 23. Walter The Arcades translated by Howard Benjamin, Project, Press, Werk

Eiland and KevinMcLaughlin (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University

Das Passagen 1999) (hereafter AP in the text) [Walter Benjamin, in Benjamin, Schriften V-1 andV-2 Gesammelte (hereafter PW in the text)].

Benjamin's understanding Benjamin, Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical section 14 (see Reproduction," note 1 ). 22. Literally meaning to speak otherwise than one seems to speak, as Benjamin inherited the term in the 1920s, stood for "allegory," multiple forms of imaginative and visual spoken, written, of extended that were constructed representation?forms metaphor such a way as to encourage to look for multiple their beholders hidden beneath the literal surface of the work. Devising meanings in his

24. On the subjective nature of allegory, the see, in particular, sections of The Origin of German (see note concluding Tragic Drama nature of the dialectical 22). On the nonarbitrary image, see AP 474-475/PW in particular N10a,3 and N9a,4. On the 592-595, distinction between allegorical ?mages and dialectical images, see Susan Arcades 25. p. 170. Buck-Morss, of Seeing: Walter and the Benjamin MA: MIT Press, 1989), pp. 241-242. Project (Cambridge, See Susan Buck-Morss, The Dialectics of Seeing (see note 24), The Dialectics

to explain the principal characteristics of the theory of allegory German dramatic Trauerspiel or royal "mourning play," a baroque term to the the genre, Benjamin adapted signify representational

This content downloaded on Tue, 26 Feb 2013 05:23:36 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions


RES 40 AUTUMN 2001

a literary theorist and historian, Benjamin also and architecture, investigated visual art, photography, are frequently cited in mass culture, and their examples was generated primarily it his writing. Thus, although out of textual examples and took textual form in his own work, the concept of the dialectical image, as Benjamin to visual phenomena well understood it, applied equally as well as to different types of hybrid structures.26 During the last thirteen years of his life, between 1927 and 1940, Benjamin worked primarily on The Arcades Project, his unfinished magnum opus, which to recreate the lost social experiences of attempted on modernity by focusing nineteenth-century inwhich, he of Paris, the environment representations were in embodied contradictions believed, modernity's forms. Analyzing their most extreme and antagonistic

and consumed. Instead of using the more promulgated traditional Marxist term ideology, Benjamin called these to indicate their dreamlike and myths phantasmagoria as visual character as well as the fact that they appealed much to unconscious drives and desires as they did to ones. Beginning in the early nineteenth century, phantasmagoria helped to plunge Europe into a conscious "dream

the proletariat and sleep" that enslaved (AP legitimated the political power of the bourgeoisie A return of the 388-392/PW 73-77, 490-496). 24-26, archaic within what was most modern, phantasmagoria that beneath the appearances of progress lay recurrence of the same"?unquestioning to an authority that takes the form of a submission In other natural order (AP 112-119/PW 169-178). the "eternal words, despite the strides made by science, technology, and enlightened century, the thought in the nineteenth masses continued to submit to mythic domination because entertainment culture and the of the growth of commodity their nihilism industries. By confirming the world of mass their passions, and entertaining industries smothered revolutionary thought, thereby causing the proletariat to of its own reproduce the social and material conditions goods images both reflected and potentially phantasmagoria and the culture revealed

world city through its surface the nineteenth-century and everyday detritus,27 he carefully phenomena collected and arranged fragments of literature, art, and material culture to form dialectical images revealing particular, the forms capitalist contradictions?in was reified, through which urban human experience In turned into a sellable object or commodity. modern the mosaic, appeared as metropolis Benjamin's a world of capitalist myths as well as the spaces, these myths were institutions, and media through which


wage exploitation. For Benjamin, dialectical modern

Benjamin in The Arcades and photographs Project, maps, drawings, an album?now See to compile this purpose. lost?for he began such as


In the mid-1930s,


to include

illustrations and

letter to Gretel Karplus 10, (Adorno), dated September Benjamin's See also the descriptions 1935, PW 1142-1143. by others who activities for The Arcades witnessed Benjamin's image-collecting that have been collected by the work's editor, Rolf Project, accounts PW 1323-1325. Tiedemann, form that the visual material would to determine the final It is impossible have taken in The Arcades Project. that to function as dialectical images in

capitalist images, as he helped to transform them. Dialectical understood them, were visual puzzles or Vexierbilder? or montaged forms that illuminated contradictory rather than negating or sublating them.28 contradictions as the constant Evoking a sense of modernity

It seems safe to say, however, still have to cultural history, the visual material would Benjamin's as in either in with text?that embedded is, appear conjunction or with textual citations. commentary juxtaposed to Benjamin's of "primal history" 27. Central concept

of continuous crisis, these dialectical management that were fundamental mediated oppositions images such as inside and often taken for granted, antinomies outside, heaven and hell, and the primordial past and the current moment. Like the best work of the "profane images thus produced the of illumination," uncanny juxtaposition worlds or frameworks.29 And as incommensurate inwhich and the economy of a society documents over the function of culture had taken commodity surrealists, dialectical
that he the fragments used this term to describe Benjamin W. See in Street Theodor (1928). [Einbahnstrasse] One-Way published Adorno, Prisms, trans. Samuel and Shierry Weber (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1981), p. 241. 28. The see Walter "Surrealism: On profane illumination, Benjamin, in Reflections Last Snapshot of the European (1929) Intelligentsia" "Der [Walter Benjamin, (New York: H.B.J., 1978), pp. 177-192 der europ?ischen Die letzte Momentaufnahme Surrealismus: 29. Intelligenz" in Benjamin, Gesammelte Schriften, 11-1, pp. 295-310].

about is important to understand is the idea that what [Urgeschichte] of actions made by statesmen and nations, the past is not the sequence fantasies of the and forgotten) but rather the everyday (ephemeral their that reflected the collective, that enslaved masses?fantasies the seeds of and that contained under capitalism, social circumstances their awakening contemporary believed Benjamin own" to the possibilities moment. of social revolution in the a montage of such "refuse," By creating "come into its that he could help this material

in The Arcades Project. As he put it, "Method of this project: I shall purloin show. I needn't say anything. Merely literary montage. no ingenious But the rags, the no valuables, formulations. appropriate in the only way possible, I will not inventory but allow, refuse?these use of them" (AP 460/PW to come into their own: by making 574). See also AP 860-861/PW 1030.

This content downloaded on Tue, 26 Feb 2013 05:23:36 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Biro: History at a standstill


ancient myths, dialectical images all pointed beyond the the seeds for nineteenth century in that they contained or in the twentieth awakening, revolutionary thought 463-464/PW (AP 579-580). century They accomplished this in part by revealing the particular myths that to maintain power. In addition, allowed capitalism to in however, promote revolutionary awakening Benjamin's sense of the term, true dialectical images also had to shock their audiences through multiple historical references, thereby calling upon them to engage with contemporary transmute them. As they came Arcades Project, images?figures phantasmagoria and

historical common

or worlds. moments In addition, they were or collective motifs, and thus more general than the work of any particular individual, no matter how perfectly "authors" such as Baudelaire or Daguerre

images were captured them. As such, dialectical of collective that repositories knowledge knowledge?a understood how human beings controlled one another through history and that also contained dialectical communal principles upon which new, nonhegemonic orders could be founded. Not only did dialectical social facts?historically images reveal objective specific and activity?but forms of human organization they revealed common human needs and desires as well, thereby holding out the promise of a better life inwhich these needs and desires would be satisfied. For Benjamin, the dialectical principles upon which a new society could be founded could not be represented Instead, the concept of the dialectical image directly. of helped Benjamin to bind together a constellation him narrative for that historically subjects significant in the defined the nature of the modern world nineteenth century, a world whose increasingly barbaric hoped to alter. In addition

in The and collected were dialectical images initially dream and environments that were broken, of

to be theorized

and shot through with conflicting heterogeneous, moments of historical time. Guiding the development the huge project was a formulation that?perhaps it sounded too optimistic?was because later dropped from the second version of the Introduction.30

Corresponding to the form of the new means of production, which in the beginning is still ruled by the form of the old inwhich (Marx), are images in the collective consciousness the old and the new interpenetrate. These images are wish images; in them the collective seeks both to overcome and to transfigure the immaturity of the social product and the inadequacies in the social organization of production. At the same time, what emerges in these wish images is the resolute effort to distance oneself from all that is
antiquated?which includes, however, the recent past.

Benjamin vainly development to specific authors, artists, and other historical figures such as Marx and Engels, Baudelaire, Fourier, Saint

Simon, Daguerre, Daumier, Haussmann, Grandville, and Proust both reflected (who Balzac, Hugo, Blanqui, in their works and embodied the tensions of this world them in their own persons and lives), the most important Arcades in The subjects that Benjamin collected were as the social such types Project general the the the the collector, worker, prostitute, gambler, the and the fl?neur, bourgeois, dandy?all figures that on revealed the encroachment of the marketplace narrative previously

These tendencies deflect the imagination (which is given impetus by the new) back upon the primal past. In the dream inwhich each epoch entertains images of its successor, the latter appears wedded to elements of primal is, of a classless society (AP 4/PW 46-47). history?that As Susan Buck-Morss suggests, dream images, for ones.31 Still missing Benjamin, were not yet dialectical from dream images were the contributions of historical materialist the dream in the tensions emphasized additional citational images through or commentaries. Still, because dialectical juxtapositions were radicalizations of dream images images, many of the former's salient features can be gleaned from Benjamin's deleted description. As suggested by this Benjamin gestalts understood dialectical images to be that mixed fragments from different
to this passage. See Theodor in Theodor W. Adorno et al., 1977), pp. of Seeing 110-120. (see note 24), pp.

interpreters who

private spheres of human experience.32 the narratives that these figures represent Although remain obscure, enough detail is provided through Benjamin's citations to suggest specific types of activity, characteristic (in the sense of political or positions or religious ideologies), general states of mind. Moreover, dialectical these dialectical subjects are shown to inhabit as such settings shopping arcades, gambling halls, urban streets, stock exchanges, panoramas, world

passage, complex

32. world?and,

In this focus


in particular, work Simmel,


30. Adorno, too, expressed objections "Letters toWalter Adorno, Benjamin," Aesthetics and Politics (New York: Verso, 31. 114-120. Susan Buck-Morss, The Dialectics


types that reveal the modern psychological their domination by a capitalist world recalls that of Georg Simmel. See, for

"The Stranger" (1908) and "The Metropolis example, Georg and Mental in Georg Life" (1903) The Sociology of Georg Simmel, trans. Kurt H. Wolff (New York: The Free Press, 1964), pp. Simmel, 402-424.

This content downloaded on Tue, 26 Feb 2013 05:23:36 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions


RES 40 AUTUMN 2001

exhibitions, interiors, and barricades?settings bourgeois the of industry, mass that, by disclosing development unrest in and social nineteenth the culture, century, and transformed the contradictions embodied developed believed the that, by perplexing figures. Benjamin in interrelated constellations, these properly arranged the thoughts and actions that figures and settings?and allow others in his contemporary they implied?would moment to rethink their present's relationship to its multiple pasts, and thus produce a better future. An dialectical array of interconnected images, these figures and settings, in other words, negatively defined a better world, first, by indicating what was wrong with modern society human and, second, by suggesting which aspects character and behavior were potentially Project remains of

image properly configured was not a "unified whole," but rather a "force field of tensions" is a remarkable "On from the of 1940, essay Concept History," inwhich outlines his critical method of historical Benjamin Because it describes materialism. how the interpreter must and represent collective wish images in apprehend to order for them it stands as become fully dialectical, an important supplement to The Arcades Project; and, indeed, Benjamin considered using this essay as the larger work's introduction.33
* * *

In "On the Concept of History," Benjamin a vulgar Marxist concept of historical in order to articulate a more critical and materialism deconstructs it interpretive of his own critical practice.34 Benjamin's it poetically the articulates and argumentatively method, to that have of historical truth appears concept guided thirteen years of research on The Arcades Benjamin's the concept of progress for betraying Project. Criticizing the working class and legitimizing fascism (OCH 257-260/?BG 697-700), Benjamin argues that the cultural historian must view the past in terms of concerns 695). But, (OCH 255/?BG contemporary one across to another because different moments speak history, what According as opposed speaks to one moment does not necessarily revolutionary concept of materialist final account

and positive. ennobling Because The Arcades

is unclear exactly how Benjamin wanted his dialectical modernity. images of nineteenth-century As it stands, the project exists as a compendium of two Itcomprises thirteen years of research (1927-1940). as a abstracts (outlining the project whole), essay-length three drafts of early essays, notes, several thousand citations, and hundreds Benjamin himself, which or reflect on the method history of enigmatic passages by either analyze specific works of the project and the nature of into sheaves or convoiutes

so unfinished, to reconstruct

itself. Arranged to a variety of different topics, The Arcades according traces its dialectical of interacting constellations Project across many different environments and figures (fictional novels and poems media, including writing as as and history), well criticism, philosophy, primarily culture (newspapers and painting, print photography, architecture, opera, theater, and interior magazines), a connections between the various As the whole, design. their citations and reflections are fairly loose. Although one few and elaborate another, upon topics repeat attempts transitional are made to interrelate the different nature. material of an expository texts with

speak to another (OCH 253-254/?BG


to Benjamin, itwas the task of the critical? to search to the vulgar?historical materialist

"instants" when different for shared images of happiness, communicate. These instants are cultural moments the sources of the cultural interpreter's necessary in situations identification with his or her material, some aspect which the cultural interpreter understood of the past as highly relevant to his or her own historical situation, thereby drawing these contemporary of into the present. And in turn, these moments aspects from identification?which Benjamin distinguished moments inwhich the cultural interpreter of empathy to enter situation or world view historical the attempted
Theodor Dialectics: 33. Susan Buck-Morss, The Origin of Negative W. Adorno, Walter and the Frankfurt Institute (New York: Benjamin, The Free Press, 1977), p. 168. in a dual sense; first, 34. Benjamin thus uses historical materialism as a term for his as a form of criticism that he rejects, and, second, own in its latter sense. I shall use the term only interpretive method. of is also sometimes "Theses on the Philosophy called The essay on the Philosophy of "Theses See Walter History" Benjamin, History." in the text) in Illuminations, (hereafter OCH pp. 253-264 in Benjamin, "?ber den Begriff der Geschichte," [Walter Benjamin, in the text)]. Gesammelte (hereafter ?BG I-2, pp. 691-704 Schriften, (1940/50)

to the idea that Benjamin would have Contributing both within and left a fair amount of discontinuity in The between each dialectical image that appears is the fact that, throughout Arcades Project, however, his career, Benjamin exhibited an extremely montage based style. Not only do his cultural analyses often (a tendency that increases as compare different media but his writing style and mode of his writing develops), are In often broken and aphoristic. argumentation addition, his work is extremely citational?at times he adding much juxtaposes quotes without merely that a dialectical material. Also interpretive suggesting

This content downloaded on Tue, 26 Feb 2013 05:23:36 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Biro: History at a standstill


of the past

a 1014-1015]?were [AP 846/PW for the dialectical image's weakly precondition redemptive or revolutionary power. In addition to being images of identification

far as possible. He regards it as his task to brush history 696-697). against the grain (OCH 256-257/UBG or To brush history against the grain meant to emphasize nature of the temporally heterogeneous wish with which the materialist interpreter image nest it in a constellation of different identified?to the citational its precursors, thereby emphasizing structure and tension-ridden and contradictory it into a dialectical image. In this way, transforming historical critic could the moment

communication, images that showed the relevance of the past to the concerns of the present, the wish images that became dialectical images were also images of violence and danger.35 As Benjamin put it, To articulate the past historically ... means to seize hold of a memory as it flashes up at a moment of danger. Historical materialism wishes to retain that image of the past which unexpectedly appears to man singled out by history at a moment of danger. The danger affects both the content of the tradition and its receivers. The same threat hangs over both: that of becoming a tool of the ruling classes. Inevery era the attempt must be made anew to wrest tradition away from a conformism that is about to overpower it (OCH 255/?BG 695).


progress reconsidered. One of Benjamin's primary examples of a now time was drawn from the French Revolution, moment and was of transformation concealed

"now time" [Jetztzeit]? reveal revolutionary inwhich the present freezes in its forward is toward the future and its development


images inwhich figures and images were the interpreter identified were places with which inmoments of great insecurity represented as existing and peril. Moreover, they were images that that the very means of historical acknowledged were representation suspect. Although potentially canons, styles, and liberating, the tradition?its most the for part a tool of domination. techniques?was

that both helped bring about the dream by sleep of capitalism most of modern that characterized French life in the as he nineteenth century. "History," put it, is the subject of a structure whose site is not homogeneous, empty time, but time filled by the presence of the now [Jetztzeit]. Thus, to Robespierre ancient Rome was a past charged with the time of the now which he blasted out of the continuum of history. The French Revolution viewed itself as Rome incarnate. Itevoked ancient Rome the way fashion evokes costumes of the past (OCH 261/UBG 701).

Culture, the medium which the communal

transmitted, instrument of propaganda For this reason, and violence. the historical materialist had to view the tradition with caution and detachment reflect this wary and, moreover, or in his her critical vigilance practice.

transmission through wish images were collected, and transformed, was also and primarily an

of historical

By citing the past, the cultural producer could stop the trajectory of the present and open it up to reflection and r??valuation. Revolutionary thinking thus involves not only the flow of thoughts, but their arrest as well. Where thinking suddenly stops in a configuration pregnant with tensions, itgives that configuration a shock,
by which encounters it crystallizes it as a monad. into a monad. A historical

materialist approaches a historical subject only where

In this structure he recognizes


Forwithout exception the cultural treasures he surveys have an origin which he cannot contemplate without horror. They owe their existence not only to the efforts of the great minds and talents who have created them, but also to the
anonymous toil of their contemporaries. There is no

document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism. And just as such a document is not free of barbarism, barbarism taints also the manner in was transmitted from one owner to another. A which it historical materialist therefore dissociates himself from it as

the sign of a Messianic cessation of happening, or, put differently, a revolutionary chance in the fight for the oppressed past. He takes cognizance of it in order to blast a specific era out of the homogenous course of history? blasting a specific life out of the era or a specific work out of the lifework. As a result of this method the lifework is preserved in this work and at the same time canceled; in the lifework, the era; and in the era, the entire course of history. The nourishing fruit of the historically understood contains time as a precious but tasteless seed (OCH 262-263/UBG 702-703). believed that, by discovering wish images and into them dialectical the ones, by transforming revolutionary interpreter could partially redeem moments of the past by remembering them and by using to develop new courses of social them as springboards Benjamin development. But to do this, the interpreter had to

35. On the tension between the destructive and the redemptive as articulated critical-historical in "On aspects of Benjamin's practice the Concept of History," and on the development of his understanding of the "angel of history," one of the central dialectical images of this "Walter Benjamin's essay, see O. K.Werckmeister, Angel of History, the Transfiguration of the Revolutionary into the Historian," Critical Inquiry, Vol. 22, no. 2 (Winter 1996), pp. 239-267. or

This content downloaded on Tue, 26 Feb 2013 05:23:36 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions


RES 40 AUTUMN 2001

citations of his material, thereby the "fore" and "after phenomenon's demonstrating (AP 470/PW history," as he put it in the Passagen-Werk was This 587-588). by interpreting the accomplished as atoms that dialectical and monads, figures settings the historical inminiature. As monads, their worlds the were not assumed to be products of dialectical subjects but rather they were recognized organic developments, contained constructed montages of different were scrutinized for temporal fragments. Although they the general truths that they revealed about a particular moment or moments of historical time, their obviously to remind their constructed character was emphasized deceitful perceivers of the potentially nature of all historical representation. dangers plain, a nested accumulation made to stand in place historical montage and dangerous To make these of parts was thus to be artificially


that focuses on these modernist and characteristics works to intensify their various inherent contradictions. As it is practiced here in light of Benjamin's example, is not antithetical to many historical-materialist analysis art aspects of traditional history?formal analysis, iconography, social history, and a focus on critical reception, for example?and, contemporaneous indeed, it incorporates them. Central to this form of is a practice of careful attention to analysis, however, the various above-mentioned points of focus as well as an overall emphasis on a method of contextual analysis as part of the meaning that accepts contradictions of the to situating the work in a work and that is opposed simple developmental continuities between and traditional history. Because of the Benjamin's interpretive method forms of art history, this essay does not in its analysis that follow the passages clearly demarcate in its analysis from the passages Benjamin's approach that incorporate different forms of art historical

of an organic totality, and a replaced a life or an age.

* * *

Benjamin's concepts historical materialist critical practice the fundamental focus on contradiction Dix's Dada dialectical conscious

of the dialectical

image and thus help to explain

It should be noted, however, that the methodology. are moments of art historical that interpretation are an here fitted into overall interpretive presented that is inspired by Benjamin's example and that follows many of his conceptualizations. The first point of correspondence between Benjamin's in the models and Dix's art can be discovered on its fundamental fact that the Dada Triptych comments own time by representing an allegorical constellation of set in environments. broken equally fragmentary figures Like Benjamin's prostitutes and gamblers, Dix's war cripples, the passersby, the old characters?the as worker, the sailor, and the storm trooper?appear human and activities, suggest particular general types in and states of mind. For example, political positions, reference to the right panel, a later interpreter read the flailing cripple and monarchist Wilhelm in the cart as embodying conservative convictions because of his Kaiser mustache (and, one could add, the Prussian structure

of characteristic Triptych. As argued above, for Benjamin, (both images negatively represented in the collective and unconscious) knowledge

of interrelated narrative form of an allegorical montage and and settings, subjects settings that always subjects stood for larger?or more general?aspects of their time. A form that spanned different media, the dialectical it, also image, as Benjamin understood the present?modern life?with other juxtaposed historical moments, for example, antiquity and the It thus cited multiple instances of the past Middle Ages. in order to reconceptualize the the present. Revealing dialectical under capitalism, experience in furthermore aided the critique of imagery or phantasmagoria (capitalist myths ideology, especially as perpetuated entertainment through commodity industries); and, moreover, by provoking their spectators to rethink the concept of progress, to their audiences dialectical images encouraged new and forms of human behavior community. investigate Finally, because dialectical images evoked a sense of both danger and identification, they could interrelate and allow their interpreters to discover the opposites seeds of redemption within the midst of tragedy. All these characteristics attributed by Benjamin in Dix's triptych? dialectical image are apparent to the culture and the commodif?cation of human

blue color of his suit). Similarly, the well-formed artificial hand of the cripple entering from the left as stick suggested an well as the silver ring on his walking status and the gold outlook, while affluent, bourgeois and and textured green yellow suit of elaborately glove the passerby fleeing the scene on the left implied dandyism. to this critic, the abject Finally, according narrow facial features, beard, and hooked nose cripple's as identified him Jewish.36 (Not all critics, it should be noted, derive exactly the same general type from the

invites that suggests that the work actively something a method of historical-materialist interpretation analysis,





und Malerei"

(see note

11), p. 86.

This content downloaded on Tue, 26 Feb 2013 05:23:36 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Biro: History at a standstill


for triptych's various particulars. Another commentator, Semitic of this the found appearance cripple to example, of the and that be suggestive of a proletarian soldier, a below him, flailing cripple bourgeois officer.37) in the left panel can be read Furthermore, the cripples as suggesting monarchist and militarist sympathies same through their medals, military haircuts, and the worn Prussian-blue color of the suit by the cripple on as Gertrud Alexander's confusion the far right. Moreover, images of panel suggests, while and sailors were most often associated with the inGermany, soldiers leftwing images of steel-helmeted were generally connected to the right. Similarly, Dix's about the central workers Dresden pub, the bourgeois settings?the neighborhood of the Marschallstrasse, and the shopping street?evoke (or, as is the case with specific milieus and ideologies contexts inwhich different the shopping thoroughfare, meet and

artists, such as John Heartfield, George and Hannah Hoch. Recalling Raoul Grosz, Hausmann, various (religious, state-dominated, and secular) moments in the development of Western art, these stylistic and Berlin Dada inherent in Dix's triptych material disjunctions undermine all notions of an even and nonreversible at the same time as they coincide artistic evolution

very well with Benjamin's characterization of the dialectical of contradictory elements. image as a montage Furthermore, Dix's triptych fits Benjamin's model of of both image in that it presents moments is self and danger. The latter overtone evident. Corpses and near-corpses appear everywhere in the Dada Triptych. In addition, the extreme ugliness of the figures and the environments suggests the human race, a of both culture and the degeneration the dialectical identification point that is emphasized by Dix's Dadaist attack?via the strategy of photomontage?on the traditional forms of painting. On the other hand, Dix's triptych also in various ways. Not induces viewer identification only does settings, cripple viewer's the triptych present recognizable types, and actions of modern life, but the abject in the panel on the right calls out for the

interact). These figures and settings ideologies relate to one another through both contrast and analogy, on which clusters and their meanings change depending to their spectators decide Thus, as a whole, emphasize. a Dix's triptych presents dialectical portrait of his to provoke moment?one its that uses contradictions about the course of German spectators to raise questions history In addition, the work incorporates multiple styles and a media. Not only does the Dada Triptych combine of different materials?including paint, cloth, tin and various of forms foil, photographs, printed material and so (stamps, money, postcards, woodcuts, as mentioned the work on)?but, above, brings together different styles of painting as well. Whereas the overall connotations form possesses tripartite strong religious and evokes the Christian art of the Middle Ages and the the size of the work as well as its subject Renaissance, matter drawn from modern life recall German history in the nineteenth and painting early twentieth centuries. In addition, the exaggerated gestures and facial the colors of the right panel, expressions, contrasting and the occasional of passages gestural painting (in particular, multitude in their own time.

compassionate understanding through his and his and isolated gaze plaintive desperate condition. In addition, some of the triptych's more attentive viewers might have connected contemporaneous the newspaper for condoms advertisements and in instruments the window of the gynecological right to about abortion and debates contemporary right panel

contraception, practices that were still illegal during the Weimar Republic. Moreover, many of the triptych's viewers would have recognized the events of original the Kapp Putsch in Dix's central panel (as well as the social forces that this moment of history represented), and some of them would also have recognized subsequent events that occurred as a result of street fighting in Dresden. As suggested by the inclusion of Titian's The Tribute Money from Dresden's Gem?ldegalerie in the center panel, the street fight represented not merely the bloody reaction attempted coup?uprisings urban centers in Germany to Kapp and L?ttwitz's in a number that occurred half of of

rightpanel and the littlegirl drawing on thewall behind

of August Macke him) vaguely suggest the expressionism and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, as well as Dix's own quasi teens. expressionist painting style in the mid-to-late Finally, the incorporation of fragments of photography and printed material evoke the photomontages of the

the face and beard of the abject


in the

37. Otto Dix

See Keith Hartley and Sarah O'Brien 1891-1969 (see note 14), p. 99.




during the second in addition, a series of battles 1920?but, particular to Dresden. On Sunday, March 14, the day following Kapp's the of quarter in Berlin, massive occupation government worker demonstrations took place in different areas of in support of the deposed Weimar Dresden government. 15, the Dresden civilian Then, early on Monday, March March militia occupied a strategically important telegraph office

This content downloaded on Tue, 26 Feb 2013 05:23:36 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions


RES 40 AUTUMN 2001

in the center of the city in support of the right-wing the Dresden supporters of immediately, putsch. Almost the putsch were driven from the building by armed workers who upheld the deposed government?a battle an more even result. that brought about disturbing revolution, Perceiving a threat of immanent communist one that did not seek to restore the deposed Social Democratic but rather to change the face government, society of Saxony, local army battalion workers' army. After President of German Minister itself, the Social Democratic Dr. Georg Grandeur, ordered a to clear the telegraph office of the a command post in the establishing across the street, the German army



radical critics, John Heartfield and George Grosz in response: "With joy we welcome the news that the bullets are whistling the through galleries and into the of instead of Rubens, masterpieces palaces, into the houses of the poor in the working-class And with this rejoinder, further battle neighborhoods!"41 lines were drawn. Although "Art Scab" in on the so-called figures weighed debate initiated [Kunstlump] by Kokoschka's many

manifesto and the response by Heartfield and Grosz, Dix was not among them, and the Dada Triptych does not by itself indicate with whom he would have agreed. Citing Dix's love of Old Master painting, for example, certain critics have later suggested that Dix would have That Dix most sided with the Austrian expressionist.42 not have sided with Kokoschka, probably would would and instead have agreed with Heartfield however, is suggested by the fact that, in a related and Grosz depiction of war cripples from 1920, The Match-Seller [Der Streichholzh?ndler], part of the same series of works from which the Dada Triptych was constructed, Dix depicted a dachshund urinating on an amputated the scorn with which German ex-sailor, suggesting In the gutter below society treated its returning veterans. soaked with the dog's the cripple, also apparently effluences, appears a fragment of Kokoschka's manifesto. Irrespective of Dix's personal position on the debate, series of events however, by referencing this complex one most famous its of of Dresden's inclusion through art treasures in the barricade, Dix's center panel associated his triptych not only with a specific time and a particular set of issues and place, but also with controversies. And in this way, many of the work's have been impelled to spectators would contemporary their interests, and values to personal knowledge, bring
Kaes et al., eds., 7?7eWeimar Sourcebook (see Republic texts that made up the "Art Scab" p. 485. For the various see Manfred Brauneck, debate, hrsg., Die Rote Fahne: Kritik, Theorie, 1918-1933 Feuilleton (M?nchen: Wilhelm Fink, 1973), pp. 63-74, 471-478. 41. Anton note 40),

Zwinger Art Gallery then attacked the workers with the support of tanks. As a result, 59 workers were killed and another 141 In addition, Bathsheba Receiving David's wounded. Letter at the Fountain (ca. 1635), a painting by Peter Paul in the Zwinger Gallery, was Rubens that was hanging in the fighting.38 partially destroyed that radically undermined support of the Social Democratic left, the government by the German In response the Dresden art scene. battle also polarized to the shooting of the painting by Rubens, the Austrian a newly appointed expressionist Oskar Kokoschka, a at Art Dresden the Academy, published professor of cultural treasures by the destruction leaflet protesting both that was subsequently sides.39 A manifesto over forty newspapers, in Kokoschka's published read in part: text An event

Iurgently request all those who intend to use firearms in order to promote their political theories, whether of the radical left, the radical right or the radical center, to be kind enough henceforth to hold their combat exercises away the shooting from the Gem?ldegalerie of the Zwinger?on
ranges of the heath, for example, where works of human

culture will not be in danger.40 Numerous artists and critics decried Kokoschka's stance and heedless equation of the left and the feelings of Kokoschka's

apolitical the right. Summarizing

the events as well

42. "Although he [Dix] did not participate in the Kunstlump

38. Kapp On Putsch that occurred as the artistic (see note in Dresden debate in the wake of the see Ulrich that they inspired, 10), pp. 95-100. Grosz and the Communist George "Kriegskr?ppel" have stood with Kokoschka. there is no doubt that he would debate, in the Zwinger far too much for He had benefited from the collection it represented, however of an attack on what him to have approved "The Revolutionary note 14), p. 13. Also (see Reactionary," is the fact and agreed with Kokoschka that Dix admired suggesting Lazar Segall, and Felixm?ller, that, in 1919, Dix, along with Conrad of the Dresden Secession the founding members Group Hugo Zehder, satirical its intention." in Otto Frank Whitford, 1891-1969 Dix an honorary member See of their movement. 1919, made Kokoschka inOfto Dix 1891-1969 Keith Hartley, (see note 14), p. "Catalogue" critical of Dix's art. See Ulrich remained 89. Kokoschka, however, (see note 11), p. 96. Weitz, "Kriegskr?ppel"

Weitz, "Kriegskr?ppel" 39. Barbara McCloskey, (see note 19), p. 65. See also Ulrich Weitz, 10), p. 96. 40. Oskar Kokoschka "The Art Scab," Martin Jay, and California

Party (see note

published Malik Verlag,

in John Heartfield and George Grosz, quoted ed. Anton Kaes, in The Weimar Sourcebook, Republic of Edward Dimendberg (Berkeley, CA: University and Grosz's Press, 1994), p. 484. Heartfield essay was first as "Der Kunstlump," Der Gegner (Berlin: 1, nos. 10-12 1920), pp. 48-56.

This content downloaded on Tue, 26 Feb 2013 05:23:36 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Biro: History at a standstill


of bear upon the triptych when interpreting the meaning Dix's ambiguous representation. Furthermore, Dix's substitution of Titian's The Tribute for Ruben's Bathsheba Receiving David's Letter Money at the Fountain makes sense given the Dada Triptych's a political subject matter. Ruben's painting depicts in moment Testament which from the Old David, the most powerful king of biblical Israel, sends a letter to the wife of Uriah the Hittite, one of David's Bathsheba, while trusted generals, with the intent of seducing Bathsheba Uriah is away at war, fighting for his king (2 Samuel 11:1-^). As an example of the duplicity and leaders as ruthlessness of even the greatest of biblical


Id'Este's studio in his castle at Ferrara.44 In another account of street fighting about which Dix may or may not have known, Mikhail Bakunin's proposal for an antigovernmental in Dresden in 1849, insurrection the famous anarchist pamphleteer suggested that should be taken from the galleries and in case their and placed on the barricades

paintings museums

there would deter the attack of the advancing presence It is unclear if Bakunin thought itwas the soldiers.45 value of the art that would cultural or the economic state forces from carrying out the antidemocratic prevent intentions. As Dix's barricade suggests, their bloody often has the however, although economic exchange once a to violent battle devalue human life, potential or moral?are economic has begun, all values?whether easily trampled underfoot. was not only the subjects and objects depicted in It a the triptych, however, that could produce chain of in the minds of the different historical comparisons In addition, the triptych's work's various viewers. to compare and contrast the spectators were encouraged now that the triptych depicted with a multitude of different suggested by the work's In the first place, the juxtapositions. contradictory between the work's overall disparity triptych format and its violent contemporary matter suggests a great subject formal divide between historical antecedents


as the precarious position of women in the Old not is but of the Testament, story interesting, particular in the context of German politics during 1920 relevance and 1921. Titian's painting, on the other hand, refers to inMatthew story, recounted of and Luke (20:19-26), (22:15-22), (12:13-17), a to to him the Christ's Jesus response question put by Pharisees, whom Christ criticized because of their excessive focus on taxes at the expense of more the New Testament Mark (Matthew important religious and ethical demands to get Jesus to speak against the 23:23). Attempting was Roman state, the Pharisees asked him if it lawful to an a unto In that Caesar. tribute response give suggested

attempt to define separate spheres of influence for both the church and the state, Christ responded, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's" (Mark 12:17).43 In light of the immediate social-historical events to which the Dada Triptych refers, Dix's citation of the Titian painting might suggest a not-so-subtle attempt remind the triptych's viewers of the reason for which Kapp Putsch was fought; namely, to restore Wilhelm to the

a religious and spiritual past and a and secular present. Emphasizing the nihilism and relativism characteristic of Dix's contemporary the triptych form evokes a sense of historical moment, debased as opposed to development. degeneration Undermining the enlightenment myth of continual progress, the Dada loss and, in addition, Triptych thus suggests historical raises questions about decisive action in the In addition, the traces of world. contemporary that mark the right panel in particular expressionism also put the present into a new light. By evoking the in valorization of feeling and subjectivity expressionist the years leading up to the war, these sparse citations in matter with the violent conjunction postwar subject both the perversion of the libido and the loss of individuality. As Dix's triptych implies, the expressionist can easily lead to elevation of feeling and expression violence instead of a higher spiritual state. In addition, suggest in contrast to the expressionists' belief that they could

II, the deposed German Kaiser, to power. What, the its spectators to ask, was to triptych potentially provoked be rendered to the Kaiser in light of the carnage that was in his name? In addition, by juxtaposing state conducted

interests with ethical and religious ones, the story that Dix cites might also suggest, when translated into its new context, that the state was often the enemy of morality. Furthermore, as the New Testament story suggests, the conflict between ethics and the external a world often revolves around money or possessions, was reinforced by the fact that Titian's painting point that was originally situated in the door of an armoire in

43. Holy Bible (The Washburn College Bible), King JamesText,

Modern Phrased Version (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979).

E. The Paintings of Titian, Vol. 1, The Religious Wethey, (London: 1969), p. 163. Phaidon, Paintings 45. See Douglas Art and Mass Media (New Kahn, John Heartfield: York: Tanam Press, 1985), p. 37. I have not been able to locate this Harold passage in Bakunin's writings.


This content downloaded on Tue, 26 Feb 2013 05:23:36 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions


RES 40 AUTUMN 2001


in the face of a bankrupt their individuality the triptych suggests the triumph not only of civilization,

clich?d thinking (as exemplified by the figures'

as features and actions), but of confusion stereotypical well?a is driven that the home of point by mismatching the allied technowarriors in the center panel. Exploding the communist myth that common suffering would bring cause?as about a common well as the bourgeois myth that culture could still produce unifying values?the that chaos, not clarity, was the primary triptych proposes I.Thus, it potentially result of World War its provoked viewers to look back at Christian art and expressionism as marking sets of values that were both irretrievably lost still desirable. The and, although suspect, partially collective wish elements that the older forms still connoted?the valorization of individual expressionists' freedom and creativity, for example, or the Christian ideal of a spiritual community united inmutual love and service?could thus remind the triptych's that, spectators of valuable aspects of human existence when become reinterpreted, might possible again. Finally, formal references to Dada art in the triptych could also have caused the painting's spectators to moment in light of their reflect upon their contemporary immediate past. As was the case with Dada art in Berlin, the triptych's incorporation of non-art materials and citations of popular caricature criticized the nature and function of modern art. As Heartfield and Grosz put it in their "Art Scab" essay, "Today the cleaning of a gun by a than the entire Red soldier is of greater significance of all the output metaphysical painters. The concepts of art and artist are an invention of the bourgeoisie and in the state can only be on the side of their position those who rule, i.e. the bourgeois caste."46 The Dada to artists understood be a means of photomontage art its traditional modern by undermining transforming and the individuality of values of originality, authenticity, the artist's touch. They believed that, through this anti-art life could be represented, gesture, the chaos of modern while at the same time the audience could be shocked into reflecting upon the role of art in the modern aware of the their audiences world.47 By making institutional functions of art in capitalist society, and by common

that giving them a sense that art was something the making of art everyone could do (by simplifying of pre-existing through the appropriation images), they a to create and anti new, more-engaged, thereby hoped critical audience. bourgeois In light of the political convictions artists (which ranged from communist in Dix's method differences apparent were no doubt In the first significant. was a not pure photomontage, Triptych elements incorporated photomontage more structure. traditional?painterly works of the Berlin Dada to anarchist), the of photomontage place, the Dada but rather it into a larger?and In relation to the

of Heartfield, Grosz, Hausmann, and Hoch from the late teens and early 1920s, Dix's work seems less iconoclastic and more like a traditional representation.

Thus, Dada

in contrast to the more radical works of the Berlin have appeared less artists, Dix's triptych would nature art of the to of and less able disruptive provoke reflection on the institutions of art in the context of capitalist societies. Dix's Moreover, tended to be much


more fragments into the structure of the carefully integrated painterly work through careful cropping and overpainting. Rather the seams or gaps to show as is the case than allowing photomontage with the photomontages of many of the Berlin Dada was Dix to subsume the fragments careful into a artists, clear and spatially-unified representation.48 Finally, Dix's were much less self-sufficient photomontage fragments than those of the Dada artists. Instead of disrupting the effect of a unified work, they emphasized Dix's power to combine even the most disparate materials. For these reasons, Dix's citation of the forms of Dada in the Dada Triptych would have tended photomontage to emphasize the differences that separated his work of from the Dada works that originated in the years it. in The triptych, other words, could have before to its Berlin audiences that the Dada suggested dissolution of art into life had failed, and that modern art continued to have a function in the wake of its total critique by the Berlin Dada artists. The myth dear to these Dada artists?namely, that, through the radical of traditional forms of modern art, artists the critique cause with the workers' could make common revolution?was exploded by Dix's complex Rather than the break from the past and anticipated by the Dada artists, Dix's suggested the continuation of multiple 1921

Kaes et al., eds., 77?eWeimar Sourcebook (see Republic note 40), p. 485. 47. On the ways inwhich works of art such as Dada avant-garde reflection on the institutions of art in modern promote photomontages 46. Anton society, by Michael 1984). see Peter (1974), B?rger, Theory of the Avant-Garde MN: University of Minnesota Shaw (Minneapolis, translated Press,

representation. the new world Dada Triptych


48. Rosalind Modernist

in Dada art, see the significance of gaps and spaces E. Krauss, The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Myths (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1985), pp. 106-107.

This content downloaded on Tue, 26 Feb 2013 05:23:36 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Biro: History at a standstill



in a world

that was


radically hybrid.

new, nor

radically old, but rather increasingly transformative

And it is in this celebration of hybridity and the

power of the artist's vision that Dix's to Benjamin's Triptych reveals its final similarity itsweakly model of the dialectical image?namely, center Because the panel is redemptive power. Dada it is impossible to trace this aspect of Dix's no doubt, in the central scene?though, representation was to the triptych's original this readily apparent reveal this The two side panels, however, audiences. that not focus focus quite clearly?a weakly redemptive destroyed, only celebrates a transformative process of seeing into the triptych's spectators the world, but also encourages in a to become self-aware and to interpret the work fashion. historical materialist At the same time as the right panel radically criticizes its contemporary reality, the frenetic visual play structure also lends the panel a its montage produced by that faint transcendent quality, a sense it promotes something good can arise from the horrors that it a multitude of different types of visual depicts. Here, printed painting, photography, representation?including themselves and a postage stamp?present text, woodcut, to the spectator's eye, and their simultaneous and claims on the viewer's attentive faculties conflicting In and dynamism. produce an overtone of excitement is reinforced by addition, this sense of dynamic agitation Dix's juxtaposition of different types of painterly linear, flat silhouettes technique: a process that mixes the hand of the that suggest drawings?for example, to the left and the prosthetic dandy exiting green-suited to the right of the arm, leg, and foot in the window more built-up textured forms, abject cripple?with

worthless. And through this two, thereby rendering it that take constellations of different representational play over parts of the right panel's painted surface, a violent, fragmenting, and recombining mode of reading the in that seems to take pleasure moreover, world?one, the discovery of hidden powerfully images and signs?is Not only does Dix and attractively demonstrated. in different display his ability to represent the world see to it and many different ways (to depict according but the more strategies and techniques), representational the spectator examines the Dada Triptych, the more he or she discovers?and the easily recognizable character of the work's various representational forms quickly rewards the spectator's efforts to see beyond or below this subtle emphasis the surface of the image. Moreover, on the dynamic, playful, and redemptive aspects of vision?initially produced by the panel's hybrid nature form and the easily recognizable representational its hidden the dialectic

reinforced and elaborated by images?is of spectacle and gaze embodied by the two main figures, one that beseeches the spectator and the is further magnified other that looks away. This dialectic in the small faces the windows and on the by positioned street that can gradually be discovered attentive the by of in spectator: portraits of new men and women, who, as are various ways, also represented either spectacles or an active gaze. Through the inclusion of these bearers of additional of faces, a crossing, mixing, and multiplying different becomes is suggested?an glances interchange that almost dizzying when the spectator attempts to take into account all the various subject positions that the panel evokes. And by suggesting an idea of vision as powerful and transformative at the same time as it represents the play of different gazes, Dix's panel reveals street and the shops that line it as the commercial sites of potential redemption as well as despair. the beer hall scene in the left panel also Similarly, that is there implies something transcendent?something even the most horrible to be preserved or saved?in elements of Dix's everyday life. And like the panel on the right, it presents this suggestion within a broader symbolic context that evokes a transformative mode of vision?one that here connects signs of death, evil, and a to chain other of fragmentation signifiers that suggest reflection, and transfiguring transparency, interpretation. In the first place, Dix's transformative vision ismade the elements: explicit by the work's Dada photomontage the prostheses that are made out of cards, the money, "cloth"? tinfoil, and the "actual" piece of woven-paper a postwar ersatz material?used for the suit of the figure on the right. These elements disrupt the medium of

produced by a layering of paints and other materials. Also in this panel, stereotyped graffiti ?mages appear on the pavement and on the facades below the shop Indian's head, windows: the profile of an American to of the the left directly abject cripple's knee, and a left arm and leg are visible behind the skeleton, whose bottom cripple's vertiginous, toppling figure. (This as a graffito scrawled within not second image appears the scene, but rather one that is painted on top of the canvas. It thus emphasizes the nature of the painting as a flat representation it seems to deface the because and, it, suggests a somewhat critical attitude image below toward the institution of art.) The skeleton, one of death's oldest and most traditional allegorical figures, seems to at the same time as drag the conservative cripple down a scythe?perhaps falling stamp above the abject it brandishes in an attempt cripple's to cut the in hand right

This content downloaded on Tue, 26 Feb 2013 05:23:36 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions





time as, through their balance and within the integration painterly surface, they also create an extremely legible image. As was the case with the treatment of different forms of this right panel, representation, which alternates integration, makes the spectator and, at the same representation between disruption and aware of the work as a time, makes the act of

at the same

in this way, the By making the spectator self-reflexive as a or whole him to approach her encourages triptych the representation from a historical-materialist Itgets the spectator, in other words, to perspective. to the work and engage with complete Dix's references of the lost contexts, forms, by recalling the meanings styles, and events that the triptych cites. In this way, Dix's work encouraged its original viewers to freeze moment their contemporary and examine it in light of numerous past events and antecedents. Rather than simply focusing on the forward progress of their time, it about what their pushed them to ask tough questions moment had lost and how such losses might be at least partially atoned for.
* * *

and powerful. The spectator, in looking both pleasurable ismade aware of the different other words, in isolation from one another at elements heterogeneous the same time that he or she is also encouraged to see In this way, smaller them as parts of a larger whole. elements can be viewed as revealing something essential about the larger configurations. The iron cross, Prussian-blue suit, and military haircut of the figure on to the right, for example, tell us that he continues with the old the order. identify military Similarly, crowned figures and the coat of arms depicted on a number of the cards held by the cripples perhaps support suggest a lingering monarchism?a continuing for the deposed Kaiser that was part of the historical world view of many of the more conservative German veterans after the war. Parts of the world, the panel suggests, can be isolated and used to reveal essences or traits that normally exist below the level of the visible. this idea of seeing into appearances and Reinforcing essences are their the of nude grasping images figures the scar tissue and brain plate of the left and middle suggest the psychic figures. These crude caricatures of the transparency imply, in other cardplayers?they that the cripples' thoughts appear on the exterior words, of their bodies. And this implication is also strengthened the of the by physical transparency scorpion arm of the on a the that reveals its transparency cyborg right: structure. In articulated underlying, mechanically addition, the tinfoil out of which Dix creates the suggests not only the surfaces of cripples' prostheses metal replacement parts, but also reflective (albeit mirrors. isolated and viewed as Thus, when distorting) the the tinfoil insinuates upon commenting larger whole, that the work does not simply depict a particular scene that it represents or epitomizes the but, exists it. world that around The audience should larger see aspects of themselves in the skat players, the painting seems to suggest to its spectators. And in in addition, conjunction evocations with the work's formal fragmentation, these of transparency and reflection imply the transformative power of vision; namely, how anything can be seen as?or made to that can be appropriated a process that can both else: represent?anything redeem and destroy.

What, then, do the examples of Dix and Benjamin about the question of stratigraphy in art history? say As this essay has argued, Dix and Benjamin suggest a vision of cultural history?one that post-stratigraphic as a nonreversible not views culture evolutionary but rather as a movement that produces development, new the by constantly citing and recombining what has come before. Of course, ifone regards stratigraphy? as has been done here?as a view that implies the of historical progress, the clear nonreversibility one of historical moment from the next, and separation one epoch's the necessary of incommensurability aesthetic principles with those of the epoch that follows, then the last stratigraphie historian was Hegel (and even Hegel did not fit this model fully). The actual practice of art history has shown far more nuance and attention to than does the stratigraphie model that has discrepancies been constructed and criticized here. Still, stratigraphy in this sense remains a hidden assumption for many art structure historians?a and narrative that conceptual


they fall back upon despite their better judgment and

often without knowing that they are doing so. Thus, for Heinrich W?lfflin could read the baroque as example, the simple dialectical inversion of the Renaissance, and

to the Greenberg, despite his arguments could read the development of modern visual contrary, art solely as a movement away from content or subject matter and toward greater medium specificity.49 Not Clement


For the specific

Kunstgeschichtliche der Neueren Kunst, Clement ed., Row,

Greenberg, Pollock and After: 1985),

see Heinrich W?lfflin, arguments, Das Problem in der Stilentwicklung Grundbegriffe: 2. Auflage (Munich: Hugo Bruckmann, 1917), and in Francis Frascina, "Towards a Newer Laocoon," The Critical Clement Debate Greenberg, (New York: Harper and "Avant-Garde and

pp. 35-46;

This content downloaded on Tue, 26 Feb 2013 05:23:36 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Biro: History at a standstill


and Greenberg wrote promoted of but important aspects of course, models, stratigraphie their thinking rested upon them, and their popularizers have often emphasized these aspects to the detriment of others. everything thatW?lfflin the examples of Dix and Benjamin thus is that we need to be suspicious of the broad suggest that stratigraphie models generalizations imply, that we What must trace out multiple cultural trajectories running parallel to one another at the same time, and that we should be sensitive to the forms and the works that

argument and suggest that Dix's art was the Instead, this essay inspiration for Benjamin's concepts. a common concerns set that of existed both in argues causal art and in critical theory between the 1920s and the 1940s. These concerns grew up in both disciplines, and as a result of both and they developed disciplinary pressures. A post-stratigraphic interdisciplinary approach resists any one-way account of cultural influence and instead remains open to multiple avenues of transmission. Over the course of this essay, Ihave allowed similarities between

narratives. For the standard developmental and the his fame that his controversy example, despite work generated in the 1920s, Otto Dix has often been regarded as a regressive painter. As even Carl Einstein, disrupt in 1926, perhaps the great German art critic, speculated Dix was "at heart a reactionary painter with a left-wing view that finds tacit support inGreenberg's motif"?a account of the development of modern art.50 Yet, as of the dialectical models Benjamin's image and created critical practice suggest, Dix historical-materialist a form of modernist that was representation was a not it to return order, but regressive, because rather an avant-garde embrace Dix's not

Dix's Dada Triptych and Benjamin's of historical-materialist cultural a type of contextual analysis through to interpret Dix's work. Aspects of my which no doubt seem like traditional art contextualization theory and practice criticism to suggest historical the methods of formal (for example, social analysis, iconography, history, and the analysis of a work's contemporaneous critical reception); and, in Benjamin's critical project indeed, there is nothing that would invalidate such practices as long as they are historical separated from a model of progressive practices and exempted from the requirement to development minimize contradiction. By calling for a form of contextual reference to any analysis that would exclude linear and progressive form of historical narrative and instead focus on the similarities and the that would differences that a work suggests between its own context of production and the contexts that are indicated by the particular historical references and citations that the I realize that Iam not work contains, departing very far from certain revisionist models of analysis proposed within architectural history over the past ten years.51 By however, that the interpreter furthermore suggesting, maximize the work's semantic contradictions and, moreover, keep an eye out for aspects of the work that of human experience suggest both the commodification and the values that might resist this development, it seems to me, does have Benjamin's example, new to offer the discipline of art history. something a Finally, post-stratigraphic approach to art history reminds the cultural interpreter to remain open to what

intertextuality. Although in the wake overlooked experiments with real and nonetheless to representation?or the second citational

of hybridity and formal innovations were of cubism and the first his innovations were abstraction, return important, as the subsequent rather to hybrid forms thereof?in century suggests. Dix's

half of the twentieth mode

genius lay in the fact that he developed a hybrid and

one that anticipated of representation, at least postmodernist strategies by thirty years. a model of historical Moreover, post-stratigraphic can also remind the art historian to development become more sensitive to the reductive nature of causal arguments. Too often in art history, we seek a textual basis for an image. Influenced by the tradition of of a work iconography, we establish the "true" meaning on the basis of a written tradition that it. predates the preexisting Without the text, interpreter's reading is suspect. By reversing the traditional order of predate
Kitsch," Greenberg, Collected 1957-1969 50.

iconographie analysis (that is, by choosing images that the texts), this essay does not seek to invert the
in Pol lock and After and Clement Francina, pp. 21-33; in "Modernist Clement The Painting," Greenberg, with a Vengeance, Vol. 4: Modernism Essays and Criticism, Press, 1995), pp. 85-94. (Chicago: Chicago University Einstein, Die Kunst des 20. XVI, 2. Auflage Jahrhunderts, Propyl?en (Berlin: Propyl?en-Verlag, 1928), p. ed.

51. 'Gothic':

See, in particular, Marvin Toward a Redefinition,"

Vol. L, No. 1 (March Historians, calling Dix's form of modernism of the Romanesque Iam also indebted

"Gothic/Italian Trachtenberg, Journal of the Society of Architectural Iam here 1991), pp. 22-37. What


fits closely with model Trachtenberg's in Europe as well as medieval in Italy. architecture to Marvin for sharing with me his Trachtenberg on Branner's Bourges: Reflections essay, "Suger's Miracles, forthcoming as Medieval 'Gothic Architecture' which his Modernism," develops ideas about Romanesque historicism and Gothic modernism in greater


170. (Originallypublished in 1926.)


This content downloaded on Tue, 26 Feb 2013 05:23:36 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions


RES 40 AUTUMN 2001

seen at the time of a work's first not necessarily As appearance. Benjamin argued, we see the past concerns the of the present. The Dada Triptych through as such at the time of was most probably not recognized its (one and only) exhibition. The title, as mentioned was is of a later invention. Yet, the title is relevant. In above, sense of it speaks to our contemporary the first place, art?our nature works and of of the temporal transitory sense that artists sometimes transform their works over time, that they occasionally them them, or reassemble augment them, destroy into different configurations. Project, Dix's Dada Triptych

is Like Benjamin's Arcades in that is unfinished, such a transitory work?one of its turbulent historical process, and highly evocative context. In addition, as this essay has argued, the title concerns located deep also speaks to subterranean that Dix's within Dix's own temporal context?concerns critics missed (or only indirectly contemporary but that are revealed by parallels between indicated), Dix's art and Benjamin's critical theory. How, why, and when such transitory works should are questions with which discussed view of art history must necessarily be identified and a post-stratigraphic come to terms.

This content downloaded on Tue, 26 Feb 2013 05:23:36 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions